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There is arguably no esports which is closer to reality: Sim racing has seen a huge boom in 2020. AOC takes a look at one of gaming’s most passionate communities and talks to G2 Esports’ sim racing expert Nils Naujoks.
It is a sunny day at Mount Panorama, there is not a cloud to be seen in the sky, when Nils Naujoks takes the last turn and rushes towards another victory for his team G2 Esports in his Lamborghini. By winning the second race this day, Nils is the uncontested The Real Race champion, a competition organized by car manufacturer Lamborghini.
What has this got to do with gaming? Well, the German doesn’t race in a regular racing car, but in a perfect virtual replica on the racing simulation Assetto Corsa Competizione. Nils Naujoks is a sim racer, a very special breed of gamer who seeks for the most realistic racing experience in the virtual world – including extremely realistic gaming setups that emulate the feel of real racing almost perfectly. The five-time ESL Pro League champion staged an accidental comeback to sim racing in 2018 and was signed by the world-famous organization G2 Esports shortly after. Now, he manages other sim racers and occasionally competes himself.
Sim racing’s time to shine
While almost all racing series came to a halt in 2020, sim racing stepped up in many places to provide racing action in these trying times. Instead of actual Formula 1 events, we saw sim racers and influencers as well as actual F1 drivers compete in virtual Grands Prix – was this the perfect opportunity to reach a larger audience with this niche esports?
At first, one might think so, as virtual and real-life racers made connections during that time which bridged the gap between the two worlds. “There were real racers we coached on how to handle these games, so they didn’t have to start from scratch,” recalls Nils. Although many dropped sim racing again once real racing returned to the tracks around the world, there are some who stayed. Especially retired racers have taken a genuine interest in esports racing such as F1 legend Jenson Button.
Sim Racing is passion for competition
Most games create fantastic new worlds that invite the players to leave their issues behind and dive into an immersive experience for some time. However, racing simulations such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione, and rFactor 2 try to emulate reality as perfectly as possible. What is the appeal of such games?
“It is much more challenging than other games. You really do something physically,” Nils explains. Arms, legs, eyes – everything has to be coordinated at once. On top of that, racing is very unforgiving if you don’t pay attention. “In many games, you can sometimes pause for like 30 seconds. In sim racing, this time equals zero. You have to be mentally present at all times. Any mistake will get you punished.”
Due to this competitive motivation, players of racing sims are prone to esports. However, unlike the major players in the industry like Counter-Strike, League of Legends and Dota 2, sim racing events are rarely backed by billion-dollar companies – also thanks to the scene’s fragmented structure. Tournaments that award decent prize money are few. For his victory at The Real Race, Nils won a trip to Lamborghini’s headquarters in Italy. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that passion for racing is the one driving factor for most competitors.
This is not to say that the scene in general wouldn’t appreciate cash prizes at all. “First and foremost, I do this because of my passion, but at some point, your time investment needs to pay off,” says the G2 racer.
The perfect monitor for the perfect lap time
Any sim racer who takes their hobby seriously owns a sim rig. While traditional gamers make do with their mouse and keyboard, sim racers play on sophisticated complex machines that are often styled after actual vehicle cockpits, including a wheel and pedals.
Although control devices are a special feature in sim racing, the monitor is one of the key features in any setup. Even in terms of graphics, racing sims are distinct from other games. To guarantee a perfect illusion of sitting in a car, you require a wider field of view. Many sim racers use either a three-monitor setup for this purpose of go for a huge, curved model.
“Three monitors are of course quite expensive and in terms of hardware this solution is more complex to set up,” summarises Nils. Therefore, the pro recommends curved ultra HD monitors like the AG352UCG6 with a high refresh rate and extremely low response time. This helps you to be aware of what happens left and right. Also, “the more pixels pass you on each side, the better you will be able to perceive different speeds,” he points out.
The esports of the future?
Sim racing is in general an extremely interesting genre. No other esports offers so much crossover potential with real-life sports. Although getting engaged in sim racing can still be quite expensive, it has seen much growth recently, also thanks to passionate players like Nils who’ve been invested for more a decade.